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Lauren Kessler

The Kindness of Strangers

Originally published in O (Oprah) magazine
May 2008

An Oregon nurse enlisted an entire hospital (from kitchen workers to carpenters) to make sure that no one dies alone.

This is a longer version of the published story

At a large medical center in the Northwest, a veteran nurse is making her rounds. She checks on one of her seven assigned patients, a frail, elderly man who is near death. “Will you stay with me?” the man asks her, his voice barely audible, “Of course,” she says, meaning it, “as soon as I check on my other patients.”

But dispensing medications, recording vital signs and updating charts for the others takes the next hour and a half. By the time the nurse returns to the old man’s room, he is dead. She tries to console herself with the knowledge that the man was very old and obviously failing, that there were orders to not resuscitate him, that even if she had returned more quickly she could have done nothing. Still, she is troubled. She feels she has failed not just as a nurse but as a human being. It was okay for him to die, she thinks — it was his time—but it was not okay for him to die alone.

The nurse, Sandra Clarke, was then forty-four years old and had been working in the medical field since she was twenty.

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